Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has rejected a team of officials proposed by the State Department to help run postwar Iraq in what sources described as an effort to ensure the Pentagon controls every aspect of reconstructing the country and forming a new government.
While vetoing the group of eight current and former State Department officials, including several ambassadors to Arab states, the Pentagon's top civilian leadership has planned prominent roles in the postwar administration for former CIA director R. James Woolsey and others who have long supported the idea of replacing Iraq's government, according to sources close to the issue.
The dispute is over who will occupy what are designed as de facto cabinet ministries under retired Gen. Jay M. Garner, the Pentagon-named head of a new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, until the country can be fully handed over to Iraqis. By interagency agreement, portfolios such as education and trade were to be filled by the State Department, with the Pentagon choosing the "civilian advisers" for other departments. Sources said that Walter Slocum, who served as undersecretary of defense during the Clinton administration, has been penciled in for the Iraqi defense ministry. Slocum declined to comment last night.
The Pentagon had listed Woolsey for the Iraqi information ministry, sources said, until the White House suggested he might be inappropriate because of his CIA background and close association with one faction of the incohesive Iraqi opposition. Sources said that he is still in consideration for a variety of jobs. Asked yesterday whether he is joining Garner's team, Woolsey said he felt such information should come from the government rather than from him.
Garner had asked the State Department for a list of names, and the eight selected officials went through security and other training in preparation for departure for Kuwait last week. At the last minute, however, they were told to "stand down" until further notice.
"We've been told there is a big disagreement between State and Defense over who controls the personnel in Garner's group," said one of the officials. One source said that Rumsfeld had labeled the group of officials "too low-profile and bureaucratic" for the work envisioned in Iraq. In the chain of command, Garner's office falls under Gen. Tommy R. Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, which is running military operations in Iraq. Franks answers to Rumsfeld.
Divisions between the State and Defense departments have marked virtually every phase of Iraq policy, beginning with President Bush's decision last summer to follow Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's advice to take the issue of disarming the Iraqi government to the United Nations. When the U.N. effort fell apart early last month, the two sides came together on the decision to launch a war to unseat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But disagreements have reemerged over differing visions of Iraq's postwar future, with the State Department looking for a less visible U.S. military role and perhaps ultimately a U.N. administration.
Powell and senior State Department officials, along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have maintained that a quick turnover from U.S. military control to the United Nations would give postwar Iraq more international legitimacy. They believe it also would encourage participation in the reconstruction effort by countries that opposed Bush's decision to go to war without U.N. authorization.
But Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, supported by Vice President Cheney, have been leery of any substantial U.N. role on grounds that it would inhibit U.S. ability to shape Iraq's future. Under a postwar plan supervised by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, the military would maintain control of Iraq for an indefinite period, until new institutions could be constructed and a representative Iraqi government installed. The plan allows a U.N. role in humanitarian assistance, under U.S. supervision.
Acutely sensitive to reports of divisions within its ranks, the Bush White House carefully controls the administration's public face. Senior officials at both the State Department and the Pentagon declined to comment yesterday on the dispute over Garner's team. A spokesman for Feith referred all questions to the National Security Council staff at the White House, which also declined to comment.
With the war in Iraq expected to continue for weeks, if not months, the delayed arrival of any U.S. personnel in Baghdad has allowed disagreements to fester. As Garner waits in Kuwait for his personnel roster to be filled, another conflict has developed over who controls the distribution of humanitarian assistance. In a March 26 letter to Rumsfeld, sources said, Powell explained his understanding that civilian authorities, and not the Pentagon, would be in charge.
The quick distribution of food and medical aid as a means of winning over the Iraqi citizenry has been an integral part of U.S. plans for the war and its aftermath. U.S.-controlled parts of the country were to be flooded with assistance, supervised by State Department relief officials in coordination with nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. Aid workers have insisted for months to Defense Department planners that they must not be seen as an arm, or even a close partner, of the U.S. military. Although U.S.-led troops would be expected to provide essential security, the non-governmental organizations said, they needed to make their own decisions about which needy communities to help.
In written guidance for its own personnel, the United Nations warned that their "operational independence" must be guaranteed. While coordination should occur between the highest U.N. and U.S. levels on the ground, it says, U.N. workers must maintain independent ability to negotiate access to those in need with "all parties to the conflict," and should not use "military assets" to facilitate their work except in cases of "extreme and exceptional circumstances."
Relief workers have been particularly concerned that the U.S. military will use political criteria to decide who receives relief. In the town of Zubair on Saturday, U.S. forces delivered two truckloads of food and supplies to a Shiite Muslim religious leader deemed friendly by U.S. Special Forces units. "It's causing all kinds of problems in the field," said a representive of one nongovernmental relief organization. "If the military takes control of humanitarian assistance, you'll have no NGOs being able to work with the Defense Department and you'll have issues with the U.N. You will make it into a unilateral U.S. response."
Powell's letter to Rumsfeld, sources said, "clarified" that U.S. Disaster Response Teams, known as DARTs, which are coordinating the effort among the various relief agencies, would report to the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), rather than to Garner. "Garner can be the best guy in the world," said one administration official who opposed Garner's control of the relief effort, "but he is painted with Pentagon colors and that will turn away a number of partners" from the U.N. and nongovernmental communities. "I don't think this administration needs the turmoil that would ensue."
In a letter last week to Bush, a group of prominent U.S.-based aid organizations, including CARE, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and Refugees International, asked that the job of coordinating humanitarian aid be turned over to the United Nations.